Kremenets

Kremenets

Kremenets, Pol. Krzemieniec, city, in Ukraine. Founded in the 11th cent., Kremenets was part of the Kievan duchy and in the 13th cent. became a fortified city of Halych-Volhynia. After the Polish-Lithuanian union in 1569, it served as a royal residence. The city passed to Russia during the third partition of Poland in 1795. It was again under Polish rule from 1919 to 1945, when it was seized by the USSR.
Kremenets (Кременець, translit. Kremenets’ Krzemieniec) is a city in the Ternopil Oblast (province) of western Ukraine. It is the administrative center of the Kremenetsky Raion (district), and rests 18 km north-east of the great Pochayiv Monastery. The city is situated in the historic region of Volhynia.

History

According to some sources Kremenets fortress was build in VIII-IX century, and later was a part of Kievan Rus’. The first documented references to the fortress are given in Polish encyclopedic dictionary of year 1064. The first reference in Old Slavic literature is dated by year 1226 when the city ruler, Mstislav the Bold smashed Hungarian army of King Andrew II near the city. During the Mongol invasion of Rus in 1240-41 Kremenets was one of few cities that Batu Khan failed to capture. In 1382, after death of Louis I of Hungary, Lithuanian duke Liubartas captured Kremenets from the Kingdom of Hungary.

The city obtained Magdeburg rights in 1431.

In the fall of 1648 Cossack polkovnyk Maksym Kryvonos surrounded the Kremenets fortress. In October, after six weeks of fight the Polish garrison surrendered, and the fortress was left severely damaged. The fortress has never been rebuilt since that time.

In 1795 Kremenets was annexed by the Russian Empire thorough the Third Partition of Poland. It remained a part of the empire until World War I.

20th century

In 1921 after the Riga treaty, it became a part of the Second Polish Republic. Under Russian rule, Kremenets was a Uyezd (district) in Volhynia Gubernia (province). Then, in the years 1921-1939 it was seat of a powiat (county), located in southeast corner of Polish Volhynian Voivodeship. Krzemieniec county had a population of 243 000 (in 1931) and area 2 790 sq.km. The town, with population of 21 900 (as for 1931), was famous across Poland for its excellent high school (Liceum Krzemienieckie), which had been founded at the beginning of the 19th century and had graduated several Polish intellectuals. Among most famous graduates of the school is Juliusz Slowacki.

On Tuesday, September 12, 1939, Krzemieniec was bombed by the Luftwaffe. The Germans attacked the town, because it was one of stops of the Polish government in its retreat from Warsaw to Romania. The bombing was witnessed by Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle, U.S. ambassador to Poland, who wrote in his report that it happened at 10:50 am. The Germans dropped bombs and then massacred civilians with machine guns, mounted on their aircraft. 31 persons were killed, 77 wounded and 27 buildings destroyed.

In the fall of 1939, Krzemieniec was annexed by USSR and became part of the Ukrainian SSR. The city played an active role in the Soviet partisan movement and was liberated from Nazi Germany in 1944. Since then it has grown and was the regional centre of the rayon.

The Jews of Kremenets

See also: History of the Jews in Lithuania

Jews are known to have been in the Kremenets area as early as 1438 (Simon Wiesenthal), when the Grand Duke of Lithuania gave them a charter. However, Lithuania expelled its Jews in 1495 and didn’t allow them to return until 1503. Still, a Polish Yeshiva operated in Kremenets during the 15th and 16th centuries. (Barnavi, p. 143).

The Jewish community gradually expanded and prospered through the 16th century. Around the middle of the century, rabbinical representatives of the Kahals of Poland began gathering at the great Fairs to conduct the business of the Jewish communities. These conferences became known as the Council of the Four Lands. Volhynian representatives were from Ostrog and Kremenets. (Dubnow, vol. I, pp. 109-110).

Khmielnitski’s Cossack rebellion against Polish rule from 1648 through 1651, followed by the Russian-Swedish wars against Poland-Lithuania from 1654-1656, devastated the Jewish population of western Ukraine. Many Jews were murdered. Others fled. Jews were not allowed to rebuild their destroyed homes. Dubnow observed “the Ukraina as well as Volhynia and Podolia were turned into one big slaughter-house." (Dubnow, Vol. 1, p. 149) Kremenets never again regained its former importance. All that was left as the Russians took control in 1793 was “an impoverished community of petty traders and craftsmen.” (Simon Wiesenthal, Encyclopedia Judaica)

Jewish life gradually revived and Kremenets became a secondary center of Haskalah (enlightenment) in Eastern Europe in the period 1772 through 1781. (Barnavi, p. 177). By the end of the 19th century, Jews once again were active in the economic life of the town, primarily in the paper industry and as cobblers and carpenters. They exported their goods to other towns in Russia and Poland. (Encyclopedia Judaica) Under Polish rule, in the early 1930s, two Yiddish periodicals were published. They merged in 1933 into a single weekly newspaper, Kremenitser Lebn (Kremenets Life). (Encyclopedia Judaica)

The Holocaust Period

The Nazis destroyed the Jewish community of Kremenets. Except for those who left Kremenets before the war and 14 survivors, all 15,000 people who lived in Kremenets in 1941 were murdered. The following excerpts from the Encyclopedia Judaica period best describes the Holocaust Period.

“The Soviet authorities took over the town on September 22, 1939. In the spring of 1940 the refugees from western Poland were obliged to register with the authorities and to declare whether they wished to take up Soviet citizenship or return to their former homes, now under German occupation. For family reasons, many refugees declared that they preferred to return; that summer they were exiled to the Soviet interior. All Jewish communal life was forbidden, and Zionist leaders moved to other cities to keep their past activities from the knowledge of the authorities. By 1941 the Jewish population had increased to over 15,000 including over 4,000 refugees. (Encyclopedia Judaica).

In June 1941, the German Einsatzgruppe “C” carried out a mass slaughter of Jews in the Generalbezirk Wolhynien-Podolien District, which was part of Reichskommissariat Ukraine. The District included all of Volhynia. The local Ukrainian population cooperated in the annihilation campaign against the Jews. (Heritage Films, Poland).

“A few days after the German-Soviet war broke out (June 22, 1941) the Germans reached the area. Hundreds of young Jews managed to flee to the Soviet Union. A pogrom broke out in early July 1941, when Ukrainians, aided by Germans, killed 800 men, women and children. In August 1941 the Gestapo ordered all Jews with academic status to report for registration. All those who did so were murdered, and thus the Jewish community's leadership was destroyed. That month the Germans set fire to the main synagogue and exacted a fine of 11 kg. of gold from the community.

They also imposed a Judenrat, headed by Benjamin Katz, but he was murdered for his refusal to collaborate with the Nazis. Eventually the Judenrat was composed of a number of people whose influence was detrimental. At the end of January 1942 a ghetto was imposed and on March 1 was closed off from the rest of the city. The inmates endured great hardship and there was a serious shortage of water. (Encyclopedia Judaica)

Heritage Films reports: “In the summer of 1942 the Germans began the systematic liquidation of the ghettos in the provincial towns. In some of them revolts broke out, the ghetto inmates resisting their deportation, setting the ghetto houses on fire and making mass attempts to escape to the forests. Nesvizh, Mir, Lachva, Kletsk, and Kremenets were some of the places where ghetto revolts occurred.” (Heritage Films, Russia).

On July 22, 1942, there was armed resistance by the Jews of the Kremenets ghetto against the Germans, who were trying to exterminate them. (JewishGen: Holocaust). But on August 10, 1942, the Germans pressed harder. The Kremenets ghetto's agony lasted for two weeks, and 19,000 Jews were murdered. (Heritage Films, Poland). The Encyclopedia Judaica account continues.

On August 10, 1942, the Germans initiated a two-week long Aktion to annihilate the inmates, and at last set the ghetto ablaze to drive out those in hiding. Fifteen hundred able-bodied persons were dispatched to slave labor in Bialokrynica, where they later met their death. The vast majority of the ghetto inhabitants rounded up in the Aktion were taken in groups and murdered over trenches dug near the railway station, near a former army camp. The local Zionist leader Benjamin Landsberg committed suicide at this time. Only 14 of the Kremenets community survived the Holocaust. Societies of former residents of Kremenets function in Israel, the U.S. and Argentina.“ (Encyclopedia Judaica).

Although Jewish Kremenets was physically destroyed, the memory of Jewish Kremenetsers lived on. In the postwar years, those who successfully emigrated before the onset of hostilities, survivors of the Holocaust, and their descendants published two Yizkor Books and a series of memorial Bulletins.

Today

Today its industry is mostly reliant on Orthodox pilgrims who come to the Pochayiv Lavra.

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